In the suburban streets of Urbana, Maryland, a young leader is making waves with his dedication to environmental sustainability and education. Mihir Kumar, a rising 9th grader at Urbana High School, is not your average teenager. His remarkable journey as a community activist and advocate for STEM education is a testament to the impact one individual can have, regardless of age.
Mihir’s commitment to environmental sustainability is evident through his role as the Maryland Chapter Lead of Recycle My Battery. This nationwide nonprofit organization plays a crucial role in addressing the often-overlooked issue of battery recycling.
“The lack of battery recycling within our community is a multifaceted problem. Used batteries leaking toxic chemicals into our landfills pose a significant environmental hazard. They contaminate our soil and water bodies, present fire and combustion risks, and waste precious non-renewable minerals,” explained Mihir.
Under Mihir’s leadership, the Maryland chapter of Recycle My Battery has seen remarkable growth and impact. With more than 40 student members across the state, the organization has expanded its reach, establishing collection points in local schools, community centers and libraries.
But Mihir’s contributions to his community don’t stop there. His passion for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) has led him to play a pivotal role in organizations like Ekal Foundation and Urbana STEMM. His involvement includes teaching Lego robotics and mathematics to elementary and middle school students.
Read on to find out what inspires Mihir and why he’s passionate about the causes he’s involved with.
Tell us about your volunteer roles.
I have two roles within my community. One is environmental – I lead recycling batteries, with the goal to collect as many used batteries as possible in our community that could end up going into trash cans and landfills. Working with Recycle My Battery is one of the biggest things I do. My goal is to recycle them so that the materials are being saved as well as our environment. I also like to tutor young kids in STEM, and I like getting them involved with Recycle My Battery as well. I get them involved in the organization so they can get involved and contribute to the community as well, as I tutor them in math. When I was little, getting a head start in school really helped put me on an upward trajectory for my future. I want to do the same for them – so I tutor them in mathematics and robotics.
What inspires you to volunteer?
I just know that these problems – regarding recycling and our environment –will only keep getting more important in the future. I know that I have to start now. The best time to start is always right now. I’m inspired by people who say it’s never too early to start, and you should start young. I’ve taken that into account, and I’ve started young, so hopefully I can keep going and doing even bigger things in the future.
Why is recycling batteries so important?
Recycling batteries is very important and unfortunately, they don’t really teach this in schools. They’re a major fire hazard. When they go into landfills, there’s a chance of them creating wildfires – especially in places like California. It can be completely devastating, just from a battery spark. Another benefit is that a lot of the metals in batteries are super precious, limited natural resources – zinc, alkaline, cobalt. These are limited resources and especially as we move into the future where cars are going to be more electric, we’ll need more and more of these valuable materials.
What are your long-term plans or goals for Recycle My Battery?
Recycle My Battery is currently nationwide, but it’s primarily in four or five different states. So, some of the long-term objectives are just getting into more states and spreading out more. I’m the Maryland chapter lead – I live in Maryland – and we’re mainly based in Frederick County. But recently we’ve been trying to recruit more members outside of the county and throughout more of the state in general. So that’s one of the future goals I have personally, and that the organization has in general.
What’s been the most rewarding part of your work?
The most rewarding part is honestly the sense of fulfillment you get. You’re seeing improvements in the community. We’ve collected more than 30,000 batteries – just knowing that impact feels really good, as well as knowing that others are growing and learning in the community.
What have you learned through your experiences as a volunteer?
As a volunteer and as a leader, I’ve learned a lot about working with others. Trying to make sure they’re contributing, that they know what to do, that they’re on the same page as everyone else. I’ve also learned about how to organize events better. There’s a lot of planning for community events – reaching out to community hosts, asking them if we can do certain things, like set up a booth or stand and have some volunteers there. There’s a lot of organization and communication skills I’ve learned.
Why is it important for people to get involved with the causes they care about?
If you want to make something happen, everyone needs to help. Everyone needs to contribute. Otherwise, things won’t change. Recruiting a big team of members who are pretty passionate about a cause in general will help. You can create big things, and you can always expand.
Any advice for people who want to start volunteering?
Honestly, to volunteer you just need to be committed. People always like to teach others how to learn different skills. So, make sure that you reach out and get involved in some way. A lot of schools will offer volunteer opportunities, so you can start there. Ask for volunteer opportunities, get involved. Everyone’s willing to help – and it doesn’t have to be scary to start!
What do you want people to learn from your story?
As I said, it’s never too early to start. You can be any age to start volunteering in the community. You just need to find something, make sure you’re reaching out and talk with people. A lot of things can be achieved by talking with people.
Do you want to make a difference in your community like Mihir? Find local volunteer opportunities.